The employees of Market Basket, a 71-store east coast grocery chain, went on strike when the CEO, Arthur T. Demoulas was fired by the board. Apparently, the majority owners, cousins of the CEO, didn't like how he was running the company. Some bad investments resulted in losses and lower earnings. Seems reasonable that the board would fire a senior executive based on poor performance.
But the employees didn't agree. Eight supervisors were fired for organizing protests to support reinstatement of the ousted CEO. Vendors refused to deliver fresh produce and customers boycotted the store.
Purpose trumps the bottom line
While the bottom line is what investors cared about, employees saw a different, bigger picture. Artie T. as he is known, ran the business based on a simple idea established by his grandfather, the founder of the chain:
"Every retailer has to stand for something," Demoulas said. The chain promises lower prices than competitors, forgoing the loyalty programs that other chains offer. "And if at the end of the day you have some success, then you share that with the associates."
Values that pay more than lip service
While most companies have the obligatory "values" listed on their website or in the employee manual, Market Basket was successful in connecting their values with their compensation. For employees of Market Basket, fair wages and profit sharing were highly valued—and made them feel like valued employees.
"If everyone in the workplace is equal and treated with dignity, they work with a little extra passion, a little extra dedication. I think that's a wonderful business message to the world," Demoulas said.
A deal was finally reached for Arthur T. to purchase a majority stake in the company from his cousin Arthur S. Demoulas. But losses from the summer strike and a large debt from the purchase will likely hamper growth for the company.
But with employees on fire with brand passion and with their chosen leader back at the helm, they are looking ahead. On the Save Market Basket Facebook page, employees are asking the question that will lead them to the next level: "Now that we have successfully helped to save the Company and CEO we love the challenge becomes a new one: how do we cultivate the 'We Are Market Basket' way?"
The answer lies with Demoulas and his employees: together they must share in both the risks and rewards of the grocery chain. The paternalistic relationship of employer-employee has shifted, with employees demonstrating that they can impact the CEO as much or more than he can impact them. A continued focus and dedication to their mission and adherence to core values will ensure that together they'll figure it out.
If you need help igniting employee love for your brand and your leadership, call Martha at 785.969.6203.